Finding a trustworthy biographical provider can be difficult. Personal Historian is not a protected title and hence does not help separate wheat from chaff. Here is what you need to consider when choosing a personal historian.
There are many reasons why you want to capture a life story and family history: to reflect, or to inspire; to celebrate and strengthen family culture; to reach out to the next generation, share personal values, and create a legacy. Passing on your story is an act of love.
Doing it right, however, isn’t easy, and to find the right help can be tricky. After all, to write and publish a good book requires a lot of different skills. To elicit your story, you need an adept interviewer; to capture and render it, an excellent writer; and to get it printed, a seasoned publisher.
Good personal history companies will combine these different skill sets. They will provide guidance, lay out your options, and then build a transparent process around your vision.
However, personal historian is not a protected title, and to separate the wheat from the chaff requires some basic standards of comparison. This guide will break down all you need to know to find the best partner in the process.
Criteria for Choosing a Personal History Company
The first guard against fraudulent providers is to look at the level of experience. How long has the personal historian been in business, and how many projects have they successfully completed? An experienced personal historian should have five to ten years’ experience and no less than ten to twenty finished book projects.
Look also for variety across the sample books you are shown. Is the tone and style of every book unique? Do the formats of the books vary? Does every project feel fresh and lively? Has the company worked only with individuals, or does its portfolio include work with a variety of clients (for example, multigenerational families, companies, and nonprofits)?
Personal History companies are often mom-and-pop shops where a single person does all the work: the interviewing, the writing, the proofreading, the layout, the production, etc. All of these tasks, however, require different skill sets and talents; no one person can master all of them at a professional level. Make sure that you hire a company that employs or collaborates with experts in every category. The quality of the end product will show!
If other people and independent organizations were satisfied with the work of a personal historian, you will naturally have a much higher level of trust. Ask for references that include individuals, families, organizations, and companies. Also, has the personal history company written and published work for personal use only or also for public consumption? The broader the range of references available, the greater the chance that you are dealing with a competent and trustworthy provider.
Every life is unique, and every story should be crafted to the subject's unique circumstances. Beware of people working off cookie-cutter forms or one-size-fits-all questionnaires. An experienced interviewer will be personally involved with you, listening carefully during the interview phase and then later shaping and refining the nuances of your story.
The same goes for writing. You can easily spot whether a writer has followed a run-of-the-mill template, for example when he structures the narrative in a strictly chronological order. A seasoned author will be more supple in his approach, allowing the various biographical strands to interweave not just by chronology but also by theme and context.
Lastly, do the published books look not only professional and high-quality but also custom-tailored to the client? Des the layout vary and express the style of the narrative? What means (other than photos) are used to give visual context to the story line?
Sharing your life story requires trust. It often involves the conveying of personal information, and hence it is crucial that you feel comfortable and confident with your personal historian. When all other key criteria are met, rely on your gut--it will tell you whom you can trust.